Law in Contemporary Society

Why Not Choosing Big Law Is a Hard Pill to Swallow for Minorities, But Doesn’t Have to Be

-- By TarynWilkins - 03 Mar 2022

My Introduction to Big Law

Ever since I was a child, I've wanted to be a lawyer. The idea was enchanting to me, as I wanted to help people. Unfortunately however, my idea of what that looked like changed once I realized that my law school education would not be paid for, as my undergraduate experience was. And so, the conversations about “Big Law” began. I became a member of the SEO Law program, where I experienced for myself what “Big Law” was and what it could mean for my future. In eight weeks, I was making more money than ever before. When I got to law school, I felt like I was in a game show. Behind Door One, was the private sector, and behind Door Two was the public sector, and maybe there was a little Clerkship path in the middle. Do you want to work at a firm or do you want to do public interest work? That was it. Nothing about how to pivot out of those doorways.

What is Beyond Those Doors?

Because of SEO, I learned that making $215,000 would come out of Door One, and the rest of the firm perks of course. I thought I would learn a bit more about what comes with Door One as law school went on. About how to use the firm to train you to do what you really want to do after paying off those student loans because let’s be honest - a lot of people are going to these firms to pay off their loans and there is nothing wrong with that. But what I did not learn from the various webinars, panels, and recruiting events, is that Big Law does not have to be the end all be all. What I did not learn was how to not make it the end all be all. It wasn’t until I was placed in front of real people who used the skills they learned at firms to get to where they are now, when I learned that it is not just a firm that is placed behind Door One. In fact, there are endless possibilities. When I met these people, I realized there was a gap in the information I was getting from Columbia. Or perhaps not a gap, but more like a dead end.

I won’t speak for the Public Sector Door, as that is not what I am most familiar with, but I know those that are in the PIPS program seem to be exposed to the “strangers in the building” I crave for in my own career search. Perhaps if I was exposed to more people who made lemonade out of lemons from the firm life to get to where they truly wanted to be, the idea of working at a firm for a few years wouldn’t seem so daunting. Instead, it would seem like an opportunity for training and seeing the law from a different point of view.

Columbia’s Legacy

If I have to be honest, I don’t blame Columbia. Columbia is well known for churning out its students to these big law firms and does a good job at it. The Office of Career Services works extremely hard to get us these jobs, to make sure our resumes are on point, and even has us participate in mock interviews. But I am afraid that the level of intensity and dedication Columbia has when helping students apply to jobs can and should stretch beyond just getting the offer.

The Windows

My idea of externships and clinics we get to experience after the first year, I’ll call them windows, have been foggy since I got to school. While we can do externships and the like during our second year, the way these options are dumped onto us can be overwhelming, and seem to come a little too late. For many, externships and clinics will be the first time they have gotten to see what life looks like for someone not in a law firm. I look forward to being able to work with professors and take the courses that interest me, but I would be lying if I said that I am a bit disenchanted with the law right about now. While I know I will come back to law school in the fall, for some of my classmates, they may not know. It may very well be because they have not been able to see beyond the two doors this institution has presented us with, as the windows they now see have taken far too long to clear up. And it is not their fault. This is a professional school where we are supposed to be presented with many paths and many options, but seem to have only two for the first year of our law school matriculation.

My Legacy

I suppose Columbia has already made its legacy, and it does not seem like they will change the first year model, but now it is time for me to create my own. I just wish I knew ahead of time that it was going to be on me to seek out the “strangers” to help me figure out what that looks like. Perhaps some of this has to do with the Pandemic, but based on speaking to past students, it seems Columbia has always been dedicated to churning out these Big Law jobs and missing detours along the way. Part of me wants to confront this problem head on, to be able to help those that the “Columbia Bus” may have missed along the way. I do not know what that looks like at this moment, and hope I eventually do. I hope now that the windows are no longer foggy, I am able to explore the possibility of the options beyond law school and firm life further, and I am excited at the prospect of doing so.

Taryn, I really enjoyed reading your reflection on the gold-paved path our school provides us to big law—especially because of your acknowledgment that it wasn't your goal when you applied to law school. I sometimes feel like deleting the personal statement I wrote when I applied to law school because I know the person who wrote it wasn't planning on going to big law. However, I am not completely upset that I am taking the path Columbia leads to the first door. From my summer as an SEO fellow to my current experience as a summer associate, I would be lying if I didn't say the money provides a security I have never felt—and I don't feel bad about it. I do wish I would know all the options out there, so that way if I still ended up behind door one, it was at least from a well-informed process. A lot of the ground work to make these options known to students will have to come from word of mouth of other students, and I hope that Columbia will provide more than just two doors. –Adrian

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r5 - 07 Jun 2022 - 05:27:09 - AdrianHernandez
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